That crazy New Year’s party in the Senate featuring Vice President Joe Biden netted a “fiscal cliff” deal passed after 2 a.m. The AP’s Andrew Taylor called it “drama unlike any other in the annals of Congress.” Here’s the deal:
It would prevent middle-class taxes from going up but would raise rates on higher incomes. It would also block spending cuts for two months, extend unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless, prevent a 27 percent cut in fees for doctors who treat Medicare patients and prevent a spike in milk prices.
The measure ensures that lawmakers will have to revisit difficult budget questions in just a few weeks, as relief from painful spending cuts expires and the government requires an increase in its borrowing cap.
House Speaker John Boehner pointedly refrained from endorsing the agreement, though he’s promised a vote on it or a GOP alternative right away. But he was expected to encounter opposition from House conservatives.
The Washington Post has a good breakdown of all the specifics here. Basically, the tax stuff is taken care of permanently and the spending cuts are put off for two months — and therefore will nicely coincide with the debt ceiling and another giant budget fight. If you find yourself saying “Ned Ryerson!” today, it’s because we are all living the film “Groundhog Day.”
The wee hours Senate vote was an overwhelming 89-8 and included both of Georgia’s senators, Republicans Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss in the “yea” column. Chambliss — who readers of this space surely know is up for re-election in 2014 — said the following:
The Senate voted on a deal to avoid the worst of the fiscal cliff by compromising on tax provisions and delaying implementation of the sequester. This deal is far from what this country needs, but I cannot in good conscience allow taxes to be raised on all Americans and send our economy into turmoil.
While I am pleased that most Americans have been saved from an increase in taxes, I won’t be satisfied that the Senate has finished its work on the fiscal cliff until significant spending cuts on discretionary and entitlement spending have occurred.The president failed to negotiate a deal to reduce our debt, but I, like other Senate Republicans, look forward to the very real opportunity to negotiate substantial, meaningful spending cuts in the coming weeks.
Here’s Isakson’s statement:
This 11th-hour negotiation is no way to run a country, but I voted for this agreement because it protects 99 percent of Americans from a tax increase, permanently protects tens of thousands of farmers and family businesses from having to pay the estate tax upon the death of a loved one, and permanently fixes the alternative minimum tax to protect some 30 million households a year from having to pay it. I am also pleased that this agreement reinstates the pay freeze for members of Congress. Now, it is time for the president to get serious about spending cuts and entitlement reforms, and I look forward to enacting significant measures in the coming weeks that will reduce our debt.
Among Republicans who voted against the measure were two U.S. senators considered likely prospects for a 2016 presidential run. One was Rand Paul of Kentucky. The other was Marco Rubio of Florida – who rejected the belief expressed by Isakson and Chambliss, that increased federal revenue is essential to reducing a $16 trillion-plus deficit:
I appreciate all the hard word that went into avoiding the so-called ‘fiscal cliff’. I especially commend Senator McConnell’s efforts to make the best out of a bad situation. Nevertheless, I cannot support the arrangement they have arrived at. Rapid economic growth and spending reforms are the only way out of the real fiscal cliff our nation is facing. But rapid economic growth and job creation will be made more difficult under the deal reached here in Washington.
Thousands of small businesses, not just the wealthy, will now be forced to decide how they’ll pay this new tax and, chances are, they’ll do it by firing employees, cutting back their hours and benefits, or postponing the new hire they were looking to make. And to make matters worse, it does nothing to bring our dangerous debt under control.
Of course, many Americans will be relieved in the short term that their taxes won’t go up. However in the long run, they will be hurt when employers pass on to them one of the largest tax hikes in decades. Furthermore, this deal just postpones the inevitable, the need to solve our growing debt crisis and help the 23 million Americans who can’t find the work they need.
What about the milk cliff? They got you covered. Politico’s David Rogers has more:
The giant New Year’s tax package rushed through the Senate Tuesday morning includes a nine-month farm bill extension that forestalls any immediate spike in milk prices but also represents a bitter blow for farmers who had hoped for long-sought changes in the dairy support program. …
The upshot is a victory for Southern agricultural interests with the greatest stake in a costly system of direct cash payments to often already profitable producers. In the dairy arena, giant processors like Dean Foods Co. come out ahead while the outcome is a major blow for the National Milk Producers Federation, which watched with disbelief from the sidelines on New Year’s Eve.
They even threw in a measure to block their own payraise. Man, Congress can be so productive in the middle of the night. I wrote in today’s AJC how Augusta Democratic U.S. Rep. John Barrow is trying to fight said $900 pay bump: “Little things mean a lot and Congress has no business getting a bonus in times like this,” Barrow said.
That landslide Senate vote provides a lot of cover for the House, but word is Biden will return to the Hill today to talk to House Democrats. It’s unclear when the House would stage a vote on the Senate bill, Reuters reports. Majority Leader Eric Cantor told reporters this morning: “We have not made a decision yet.”
Here’s the full obit of Lillian Miles Lewis — Rep. John Lewis’ wife — by the AJC’s Michelle Shaw. A clue as to why John Lewis came to D.C. Sunday night:
Close friend Xernona Clayton said Lillian Lewis had been ill for an extended period of time but encouraged her husband to continue with his career.
“She’d kind of get on him about telling people she was sick,” Clayton said. “She didn’t want that to be the focus. She wanted him to do his work.”
There are still no funeral arrangements available, but we will post them here when they are.
- By Daniel Malloy, Political Insider